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'Conan': More of same

Posted by Matthew Gilbert  November 8, 2010 11:42 PM

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In short, meh.

The subtitle for Conan O’Brien’s new TBS talk show, “Conan,” ought to be “More of Same.” Tonight’s premiere was notable primarily for giving us Conan as he was and, probably, always will be -- tense, ironic, kind of a nice guy, sometimes clever, sometimes funny, sometimes not. His months of intense bonding with his fan base in theaters and online -- pushing the role of talk-show host into some new areas of intimacy with audiences -- have not changed his essential comic DNA. 

Also, the premiere made it clear that the new show will be sticking to the dated Late Night TV 101 formula -- the monologue, occasional video sketches, and, alas, the banal desk interviews. Tonight’s deadly guests were Seth Rogen and Lea Michele, both of whom awkwardly made their way through prefab material about being, nothingness, and more nothingness. There were no attempts during the hour to tweak the tiresome late-night moves for cable, to expand beyond what late night TV means on the networks.

The set, too, was stubbornly conventional. The desk, a chair, a couch, a backdrop with a giant, movable moon -- it was, like everything else on “Conan,” overly familiar and too structured. Not unpleasant, with Andy Richter standing by with quips and Jon Hamm putting in his umpteenth comedy cameo of the year, but still: Not exciting or ambitious. Perhaps Conan will head in some new directions once he regains his sea legs?

The show began with a barrage of NBC “Tonight Show,” and unemployment jokes, including a pretaped sketch of Conan looking for a job, working at a fast-food restaurant, and getting words of hope from Larry King about basic cable. The best part: a “Godfather” spoof of him getting shot like Sonny Corleone. Other jokes included: “People asked me why I named the show ‘Conan' -- I did that so I'd be harder to replace.” Etc., etc., etc.

Seriously, enough already. I understand that Conan has needed to process his grief about losing “The Tonight Show,” but at this point he has made just about every joke worth making. It surely was a mess, the whole NBC-Leno-O’Brien debacle, but the material is old and whiny -- especially given his financial compensation during the recession. I hope that Conan, still bearded, will lose the topic beginning tomorrow night.

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